Groningen managed to beat NAC Breda, two teams separated by only three points in last year’s final standings, but having quite different season starts this year. Young manager Pieter Huistra continues to impress with a 4-2-3-1 that suits the Groningen players very well. Against NAC they dominated the match, although the score line suggested otherwise, but creating 11 shots on target while allowing only one sums up the story here.
Groningen’s season start and the return of Holla
In this match, Groningen is looking to build on their best season start ever, looking to strengthen their aspirations of qualifying for European football next season. Quite a debut for starting manager Pieter Huistra! He is a consistent tactician in the sense that he consequently plays a 4-2-3-1 system, keeping his wingers quite wide and focusing a lot of play on ground passes. Add to that Groningen’s aerial strength from the back, especially with set piece goals coming from captain Andreas Granqvist and the picture of their game play is drawn.
Groningen gained a lot in terms of passing accuracy with the return of Danny Holla after his ankle fracture. He is yet to find his form, but when he does, he plays a rather classic deep-lying playmaker role, which in turn relieves Sparv from being the main passer in Groningen’s midfield. The young Fin is then allowed to lower his passing distance and aim for keeping possession, much like the third central midfielder role that Zonal Marking defined as the ‘passing midfielder’.
NAC’s inverted wingers 4-3-3
NAC saw manager Robert Maaskant depart only three matches into the new season, only for his replacement duo John Karelse and Gert Aandewiel to set win 13 points from their first five matches. Three straight defeat followed and NAC is placed in mid-table at the moment. For most part of the season, they’ve played a straight 4-3-3 formation, relying quite heavily on the creative input of striker Matthew Amoah. In his lone striker role he tends to be supported by inverted wingers like Leonardo, Boussabon and Kolkka.
For this match, however, NAC has in fact adapted to Groningen’s tactics. They play a 4-2-3-1 themselves, playing Ali Boussabon behind striker Amoah , fielding split wingers, with left-footed Leonardo on the right and Gorter on the left.
In this match, beforehand, the focus will certainly be on Groningen’s left (and NAC’s right) flank, where Stenman defends the unpredictable Leonardo. The Brazilian is not known for tracking back at all while Frederik Stenman excelled in his advanced role, teaming up with Dusan Tadic very well over the past few matches. This area of the pitch will most likely be a tell-tale of how the match will develop.
The first half
In fact, the game started with an own goal by Andreas Granqvist, who headed a corner into his own net in the second minute of the game. This changed the face of the game even before it had started. NAC interpreted the advantage as a license to draw back into their own half and let Groningen dominate the game. The led to a rather messy opening fifteen minutes where Groningen recovered from the early set-back and NAC seemed comfortable enough. In this phase, the game was obstructed by a lot of small fouls, more than one every two minutes for the first half.
After this opening phase, Groningen got their game running, especially with Stenman, as predicted, down the left flank. During one of their pressing phases they gained a penalty from a NAC handball, which Granqvist converted in order to settle both the game and his personal score line.
Groningen’s pressure carried on with NAC seemingly yet to have to start their game. NAC’s relatively high defensive line won them quite some offside, but also meant that the cleverly playing Gonzalo Garcia had space for his through-ball, on one of which Matavz should have put Groningen in front at that time. As so often happens, the home team took a small break, catching their breath, after playing a very intense first twenty minutes.
A lead just before half-time
The final stage of the first half saw Groningen up the pressure on their opponents once more. Their improved midfield passing was expressed in some nice one-touch moves, one of which lead to a shooting chance for Enevoldsen. A further display of their technical skills was the excellent effort from outside the box when Gonzalo Garcia hit the crossbar with a ferocious volley.
Just before half-time Groningen earned a second penalty, after a second handball, not as much a deliberate one, but it did take a scoring opportunity away. Again, Granqvist stepped up and again,he scored, putting Groningen in front this time.
The second half
Attention was of course turned to NAC at the beginning of the second half. Being behind now, the away side had to come up with something to change the course of the one-sided game. Of first note was the half-time change to move Gudelj from a very controlling midfield role into more of a box-to-box role. He tried to provide Boussabon with more attacking support in midfield, but NAC missed the input of Donny Gorter in central midfield, after stationing him at the left wing when trading the 4-3-3 for the 4-2-3-1.
It took until halfway into the second half for NAC to make more chance in search of the equalizer. Captain Rob Penders was subbed off for Anthony Lurling, in a move which strengthened NAC’s attack further. But as the match carried on, it was quite clear that this NAC side seems to lack firepower upfront. Groningen survived up to the final whistle without too much difficulties to win the three points they deserved.
In the end
It’s not a unique situation in the Eredivisie, a player scoring an own goal and two regular goals too, but it did provide a special sense to the game for Groningen captain Granqvist. Both teams playing a 4-2-3-1 a sticking to it, meant a disappointing match from a tactical point of view. Furthermore, NAC seems to lack the depth in their squad to provide the required variation in a match that, like this one, doesn’t go their way.